It’s been a while since I’ve done a life update on my healing journey with leaky gut syndrome, IBS and SIBO, so thought I’d share some new information with you all.
I’ve titled this “phase 2” because I see my overall healing pattern that way. Phase 1 was working on my digestive issues, which were a high priority and at the root cause of most of my symptoms. Now that I’ve spent about 6 months working on that, things have improved greatly (still not 100 percent or even 80 percent), but there’s another big area that I need to tackle now, which is “phase 2” — balancing my hormones.
First, let me share a little bit about what I am currently doing on the gut/digestive side. In general, my chronic inflammation, bloating, gas, constipation and acid reflux are much less intense than they used to be. When things are good and I am eating my “safe” foods, I hardly even experience any of those things. I’ve been able to add more fiber back into my diet, mostly in the form of chia seeds and dino kale, but if I eat too much, it can lead to constipation.
There are still a ton of foods I CAN’T eat, which is very frustrating at times. I’ve done a few re-introduction experiments, which is where you reintroduce a tiny amount of a problem food (like broccoli or a nightshade veggie), then gauge how you feel over the next 4 days, taking note of your symptoms and overall state of health and mind. I’ve done this with cauliflower, broccoli and caramelized onions (all on separate days of course). Cauliflower and broccoli where a definite no-go. I started experiencing my usual symptoms within 30 minutes of eating the foods and they lingered for about 5 days. Onions were a little bit more successful. But I only ate a tiny amount and I suspect raw onions would be much worse.
Next I’d like to reintroduce eggplant or possibly bell peppers to see how I do with nightshades. For me, nightshade vegetables run on a spectrum. Things like ashwaghanda root and potatoes hardly give me any symptoms, so I occasionally eat those, but tomatoes and any kind of pepper, I steer clear from.
In terms of supplements, I am still taking the broad spectrum probiotic my doctor prescribed me, a probiotic powder, L-glutamine to help seal my gut, and magnesium citrate to help things move more easily through my body, but I’ve reduced my dosage over time, with the goal to go completely off it in the future. I also take hydrochloric acid capsules to help with my low stomach acid and digestive enzymes before any big meal. I also take a high quality fish oil, CBD tinctures for anxiety, and have added the following to promote good digestion, sleep and reduced inflammation:
And things are good, but only for two weeks out of the month, thanks to a new development in my healing journey — whacky hormones. I’ve been noticing a cycle for a few months now and with the help of my doctor, we’ve figured out that I have really low progesterone levels. We could have done testing, but it was expensive (upwards of $400-500) and based on my symptoms, it was pretty clear that the problem was progesterone.
If there are any men still reading this . . . it’s about to get real menstruation-y over here, just saying! Proceed at your own caution 😉
During the first day of my cycle (aka when I menstruate) things are actually great, which is weird, right? I usually don’t have bad PMS in terms of cramping, bloating, etc., and my period is pretty light (also I have a Mirena IUD, which helps reduce my symptoms), digestion is on point and constipation is not an issue. Then things carry on pretty normal through the follicular phase (days 1-13) and ovulation phase (day 14), but once I enter into other latter half of the cycle (the luteal phase), which is days 15-28, everything goes to complete and utter shit. I’m not exaggerating.
During the luteal phase, I experience severe mood swings, anxiety/depression, restlessness/insomnia, bloating, hot flashes, constipation, breast tenderness (my boobs grow a full cup size, too), etc. And that’s all without changing a single thing in my diet or regular routine. It’s like a switch flips and I go from normal to crazy in a matter of 24 hours. I do not feel in control of my body or my mind whatsoever. It’s like a stranger has taken over and I am co-piloting without a steering wheel. The constipation and insomnia are the worst. I wake up in the middle of the night (sometimes with hot flashes) and can’t fall back to sleep and that cycle continues for two weeks. I don’t think there’s ever been anyone so happy for the first day of her period than me…well, except for people with pregnancy scares.
And so, as I mentioned above, the problem is that during the luteal phase, progesterone takes over, but I have insanely low progesterone levels, which results in all of the aforementioned symptoms. This is EXACTLY what happens during menopause. Basically, at 27 years old, I experience pre-mature menopause for two weeks out of the month every month. It’s awful and I empathize with any woman out there going through this!
Other symptoms of low progesterone can be decreased sex drive, headaches/migraines, weight gain, fibroids, endometriosis, irregular menstrual cycles (which has always been the case for me) and thyroid dysfunction.
Let’s take a step back and better understand what progesterone is. It’s one of the two major female sex hormones (estrogen being the other).
It’s produced mainly in the ovaries following ovulation each month (day 14 of the cycle) and is a critical part of the menstrual cycle, as well as the maintenance of pregnancy. Basically, it supports the ability to conceive by thickening the lining of the uterus to prepare for a fertilized egg. If there is no egg (such as in my instance because I have an IUD to prevent me from getting pregnant), then progesterone levels drop and menstruation begins.
And as we’ve already determined, things can go awry if your progesterone is too low for too long.
There are a variety of things you can do to help boost your progesterone levels, but they all include the same process: adding additional hormones back into your body. You can do this by supplementing progesterone in your body with a synthetic version that is lab-produced progesterone (called progestins) you take, usually topically as a cream, suppository, or orally (Provera is a popular one) to help increase your levels. That typically requires a prescription from a doctor and comes with a laundry list of side effects.
You can also take natural progesterone that is derived from wild inedible yams, which is available over the counter and as a prescription. If you want to read more on the benefits of natural progesterone, this article from Dr. Weil is really informative.
There’s also the option of hormone therapy, which includes taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone, but there are cancer risks associated with that, especially taking estrogen without progesterone.
There are also a handful of natural herbs and supplements that can help regulate hormone levels, however I am already taking most of these things as part of my gut healing regimen (vitamin C and B6, zinc, sleep, stress reduction, essential oils like evening primrose) and it’s clear that I need a stronger intervention.
Out of those three options, I chose to go the natural route and to use a topical cream made from wild yams. My doctor, Dr. Vinh Ngo of SmartMed SF is having a natural version made for me, but while I wait for that to happen, I also did some research online and looked at the top rated natural progesterone creams.
Emerita ProGest is definitely the winner in this category. It’s been around for 35 years and is paraben and fragrance free, vegan and never tested on animals. And there’s this statement on their website about how they source their natural estrogen:
Our progesterone comes from the Mexican Wild Yam and is converted to pure USP Progesterone (meeting the standards of the United States Pharmacopeia for strength, purity and quality).
It’s available on Amazon (and yes, qualifies for Prime). I ordered a small tube and it should hopefully arrive tomorrow.
Once my cream arrives, I am going to give it a go IMMEDIATELY! Not just because I am anxious to improve, but also because I am just starting my luteal phase. You only use the progesterone cream during the second half of your cycle when your body is supposed to be producing its own progesterone. You can rub it anywhere on your body (wrists, elbows, belly, arms, etc.) and you do this from day 15/16 (or as early as day 7… basically once bleeding stops) until day 28, or when you menstruate again.
I suspect this happened because of the connection between my gut and hormones, and potentially being low carb for too long. There are a lot of foods I can’t eat and that can lead to vitamin deficiencies and other imbalances. I do take supplements to help with that, but it’s not the same as eating those foods on a regular basis. So, while my diet is still very limiting, I really hope this works because I would like to have my sanity and happiness back during those two terrible awful weeks instead of feeling like Cruela De Vil. Stay tuned . . .
I wanted to provide a quick update to this article. Not only did I stop using the progesterone cream because it wasn’t working, knowing what I know now as a functional nutritional therapy practitioner, I would caution someone against using forms of hormone replacement creams, even if naturally derived from wild yams such as the above.
There is certainly a time and a place for treatments like this and you must weigh your pros and cons according to your unique situation, however, these creams are more of a band-aid solution and do not address the root cause issue. Although I respected the advice from my integrative doctor at the time, I’ve learned much more about my body and its hormones and decided that path of treatment was not for me.
For more information on this topic, I highly recommend this article from Dr. Jolene Brighten.